Flyover America: 10 Songs for an American Road Trip

Travel Blog  •  Sophia Dembling  •  04.27.09 | 4:09 PM ET

Photo by dsearls via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Forty-seven percent of road trip success is having the right soundtrack. (The rest is route, scenery, and snacks.)

This week Jenna and I offer you our Flyover America Mix—10 songs each (though we could think of many more) about flyover states. Of course, road songs needn’t have places in them, but that’s just a little extra fun.

Though my musical tastes are diverse, I decided to go all country here for a couple of reasons. First, I love country music. I was, after all, the first (and so far only) nice Jewish girl from New York City to cover the country music beat for the Dallas Morning News. Second, to my mind, nothing captures the gestalt between the coasts like fiddle and steel.

You might also notice my soft spot for cheesy ‘70s country. I have no excuse for that. Deal with it. I’ll let Jenna appeal to the sophisticates among you with her upcoming post.

We look forward to hearing your additions to the mix.

Big City (Merle Haggard) If I ever do drop out, it will be in Montana. Or possibly Cody, Wyoming—anyone got a song about that town?

Texas in My Rear View Mirror (Mac Davis) No matter where they roam, Texans tend to return home. I’d always liked this song, then I interviewed Mac Davis a few years back (about Lubbock and Buddy Holly) and his sexy voice made me all swoony. So it’s an extra-favorite now.

I’ve Been Everywhere (Johnny Cash) Someday I’ll learn all the lyrics to this road trip anthem. Until then, I’ll just keep mumbling along.

Nashville Cats (The Lovin’ Spoonful) Cute lyrics. “Well, there’s sixteen thousand eight hundred twenty one mothers from Nashville; All their friends play music, and they ain’t uptight if one of the kids will.”

Wild Montana Skies (John Denver and Emmylou Harris) Two beautiful voices harmonizing on a beautiful tune. Hokey, yes, but it always conjures for me the image of an eagle soaring in that wild Montana sky.

Wichita (The Jayhawks) I haven’t been to Wichita yet, but I’ll be looking for smiling fields when I finally visit.

You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma (David Frizzell and Shelly West) A guilty pleasure, to be sure. Delicious schmaltz about being homesick for my new favorite state.

Dallas (The Flatlanders) Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s high-lonesome voice and the slightly ominous minor key conjure up my hometown perfectly. And this song puts the “flyover” in flyover state, asking, “Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?”

Miles and Miles of Texas (Asleep at the Wheel) A little Texas swing always works and no lyric describes a Texas road trip better.


Sophia Dembling

Dallas-based writer Sophia Dembling is co-author of the Flyover America blog and author of "The Yankee Chick's Survival Guide to Texas." She would love to hear your tales of America, so drop her an email.

33 Comments for Flyover America: 10 Songs for an American Road Trip

Marcia 04.27.09 | 5:12 PM ET

How about “North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton? Great (commercialized) rockabilly with visions of John Wayne.

and “L.A. County” by Lyle Lovett? revenge a la Texas.

Sophia Dembling 04.27.09 | 5:14 PM ET

Good ones, Marcia. To be added to the mix! (Although since Flyover America in our blog mission statement precludes LA and Manhattan, dunno if we can let an L.A song in. Even sung by a Texan.)

Jenna Schnuer 04.27.09 | 8:03 PM ET

And good call on North to Alaska. There will be some Alaska coming up when my mix hits the airwaves but of a different title….

amucomm 04.27.09 | 10:43 PM ET

Silver Wings by Merle Haggard comes to mind, Barbara Fairchild with “LA Airport” (destination) or Moe Bandy “Biggest Airport in the World”, a great Sanger D. Shafer song. “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (written by John Denver) and recorded by The Kendalls…

Sophia Dembling 04.27.09 | 10:59 PM ET

Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of Leaving on a Jet Plane was one of the very first 45’s I owned. Drove my older brother nuts playing it again and again.
How ‘bout the Pittsburgh Steelers by the Kendalls?

Jerry Haines 04.28.09 | 9:30 AM ET

I’d add “Big River,” written and performed by Johnny Cash, in which our protagonist follows the girl of his dreams down the Mississippi, identifying the stops along the way, meeting her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota; hearing a report of her “cavortin’ in Davenport.”

Johnny wrote

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 9:35 AM ET

Another great one. Johnny Cash is a road trip all by himself, isn’t he? And “cavortin’ in Davenport” may be an all-time great line.

Jerry Haines 04.28.09 | 9:45 AM ET

Ooh, ooh!  Forgot “24 Hours from Tulsa,”  made popular by Gene Pitney, but the first time I heard it, it was sung by Ian and Sylvia.  (There are lots of good “fly-over territory” songs on their records—they just happen to be on the Canadian end of the Plains.)

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 9:52 AM ET

How many songs about Oklahoma/Tulsa we can list? Living on Tulsa Time, T-U-L-S-A Straight Ahead, Oooooooklahoma (I played Ado Annie in a summer camp production), Okie from Muskogee ... any others?

Marcia 04.28.09 | 10:14 AM ET

Oh yeah, Gene Pitney. These are some fabulous songs about Oklahoma! How about “The Girl Who Danced Oklahoma” by Terry Allen.

Some nonOkla songs, “Amarillo Highway” and “The Wolfman of Del Rio”, also by Terry Allen.
“Houston” by Dean Martin, “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty”, “Uncertain, Texas” by Guy Clark, “Portland, Oregon” by Loretta Lynn & Jack Black, “Levelland” by Robert Earl Keen or James McMurtry.

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 10:20 AM ET

I don’t know the Girl Who Danced Oklahoma… off to iTunes…

El Paso by Marty Robbins is either great or annoying depending on my mood. (I love Devil Woman, but that’s a digression.) Houston (Means That I’m One Day Closer to You) by Larry Gatlin also ties into my crappy ‘70s country theme.

I’m sure the Texas songwriters have many others. Steve Earle had lots—didn’t he have an “I hate Nashville” song of some kind? I can’t think of it.

Marcia 04.28.09 | 10:33 AM ET

Can’t leave out Bob Wills’ “San Antonio Rose”.

That “Lubbock on Everything” album by Terry Allen is a classic playlist unto itself.

Jerry Haines 04.28.09 | 11:09 AM ET

I love “El Paso—with “wicked Felina,” the “foul, evil deed I had done,” and all of the rest of its gloriously purple prose.

It is second only to “A Boy Named Sue” in my personal pantheon of great country-western lyrics.

“Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel /  A deep, burning pain in my side….”  Worthy of Giacomo Puccini.

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 11:15 AM ET

Lubbock on Everything! Great title! What is it about Lubbock…?

Chris 04.28.09 | 11:35 AM ET

I’m going to throw in some Southerrn Rock with “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers and “Can’t You See’ by the Marshall Tucker Band (anything with trains immediately makes me think of being on the road, I don’t know why). I’ll take either “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Free Bird” from Skynyrd. Going completely opposite your Country theme, I’d add “Wherever I May Roam” by Metallica and “36 Days on the Road’ by Hawk Nelson. I can’t decide which version of “Turn the Page” I like better so you can pick. :-)

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 11:40 AM ET

Yes, yes, Ramblin Man in particular. Some of my very first concerts were the Allman Brothers.

And Take it Easy, by the Eagles, if just for the” ...standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” line.

Hey, Chris, have you seen Some Kind of Monster, about Metallica? I love that movie.

Chris 04.28.09 | 11:56 AM ET

I almost forgot Take It Easy, that’s definitely on my road trip list. I read a couple of years ago that they built a small park in Winslow, AZ on route 66 based on that song.

I never did watch Some Kind of Monster. I did have the live album they recorded for it at one point. Did you know they recorded that show (for the album) on the hottest day in recorded history in Paris?

There are several punk rock songs (a lot of them covers like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes version of Leaving on a Jet Plane) that are good road songs too. I’ll add the entire Drunken Lullabies album by Flogging Molly.

Meryl 04.28.09 | 1:08 PM ET

I don’t know if this really qualifies as a road song, but it’s certainly right in the middle of middle America: Indiana Wants Me by R. Dean Taylor.

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 1:09 PM ET

TOTALLY qualifies! Good call! Didn’t the Cowsills or the Osmonds or someone like that also record it?

daniel 04.28.09 | 2:21 PM ET

I’ll echo the punk sentiment, with Minnesota’s Dillinger Four… and their album, “Midwestern Songs of the Americas.”

Marcia Cirillo 04.28.09 | 3:40 PM ET

Just rememberd “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”. Wasn’t that the cheesy 70s?

“Singapore” by Tom Waits. “True Dreams of Wichita” by Soul Coughing.

Sophia Dembling 04.28.09 | 3:43 PM ET

Oh yeah. That was cheesy ‘70s deeee-luxe. Vicki Lawrence.

Chris 04.28.09 | 4:22 PM ET

I almost forgot about Sufjam Stevens too. Anybody that starts a “50 states” project must have some good travel songs, even if he’s only finished Illinois and Michigan so far.

ZipTheUSA 04.29.09 | 6:01 PM ET

Don’t forget this classic road trip song from Willie

On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again,
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.

kerry dexter 04.29.09 | 7:09 PM ET

On a Bus to St. Cloud—Gretchen Peters—which has both St. Cloud and New Orleans in it—and for your Texas connection, Jimmy LaFave has recorded it too
Dakota Lullaby—Albert & Gage
Taos to Tennessee—Tish Hinojosa
Austin When It Rains—Jeff Talmadge

Jenna Schnuer 04.30.09 | 12:58 AM ET

So much good stuff here! Holy crap. Forget responsibility and work. We should all get on a bus together and ride cross country, tunes a blasting.

Sophia Dembling 05.06.09 | 11:47 AM ET

OK, my friend Brad just turned me on to another great one—Webb Wilder’s “How Long Can She Last?” A great lyric and it’s about a girl in a baby blue Plymouth Duster, which is the car in which I took my very first cross-country road trip in 1977. Might be my new theme song.

Marcia Cirillo 05.06.09 | 2:14 PM ET

I love Webb Wilder!

Kerry Dexter 05.06.09 | 4:34 PM ET

hey, if we’re doing cars—455 Rocket. really like Kathy Mattea’s version.

Sophia Dembling 05.06.09 | 4:40 PM ET

Don’t know that one but will look for it—and a cars songs list might be fun. Perhaps we should start with poor old Chrysler…are there any songs about the Trans Am?

Michele Parkins 05.15.09 | 11:31 AM ET

Where is Mac Davis???  Can we bring him back.  I soo miss his music!!

Sophia Dembling 05.15.09 | 11:37 AM ET

I seem to remember that he was recording an album when I interviewed him but I don’t think it ever got released. I hope he stumbles on this blog and realizes we still love him!

Michele Parkins 05.15.09 | 12:33 PM ET

I hope so too.  I’ll give him a free week at my Long Beach Island house if he’d just come sing for us.  John Davidson owns the Surf Flight Theater on the Island, and I’m sure he would love to give Mac a venue.

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